“Buttah bean. Lawd girl what has got into you?” Sweet Thomas comes to me and uses the tail of his shirt to dry my face of tears and snot. The course fabric stings, but in a good way. “What is it, chile? Someone run off with your favorite barn kitty?”
I pull away and set my face all angry, just like I seen my Ma doing a hunnert times a day. “I ain’t no chile!” I says, all hot like, letting the anger chase the sad away.
“You right. You near a grown woman now. My most grevious error.” He says like the lord a the manor hisself, doffs his cap and bows afore me all hoity toity. I laugh, then get mad at myself for allowing him to cojole me such.
“You jes never mind why I is sad. It is my own bidness. And speaking of bidness, what bidness has you over here to the house? You gonna catch a whippin’ if they sees you.”
“I gots bidness, so never you mind, chile. I mean Lady Buttah bean.” He laughs and darts away afore I can swat him with my soapy hands. He heads on up to the cookin house and I go back to the job at hand: Scrubbin the monthly stains from Miz Ginnia’s bed clothes and washing the snot outta the master’s kerchiffs. I got them all soaped up and ready fer boilin, so I adds some wood to the fire and take my big stirrin stick and give the pot a swirl. Greasy bubbles and chunks of whatnot float to the surface. Miz Ginnia taken to her bed agin with the lady times. I feel the tears swellin up from my neck and I get firm with myself. I ain’t no chile anymore and neither is Mis Ginnia and the time is passed now that we can play together like babies. I gotta do my work and don’t think about in no more. Ma is right and I outta listen to her. Me an Miz Ginnia ain’t kin and we ain’t family and I is nothin but her personal house slave now and I has to jes accept it. And I does.
I jes get so sad sometimes.
As tiny childrens we played right here beside this crick while my Ma stirred up the pot of washin. I remember one time we was settin on the bank and we pulls each others shoes plumb off and jumps into the water. Ma comes runnin over and pulls us out afore we can get too wet or drowned or whatnot and she sets Miz Ginnia up on the bank to dry in the sun, then she takes that stick from the washin pot and she give me some licks on the backs of my legs, jes to remind me about my place in this world. Even back then, as a little chile I knew not to cry out or complain.
Later though, when Ma is busy wringin and hangin, don’t Miz Ginnia come right up and hug me tight and whisper that she sorry for my troubles. Sorry for my troubles. Don’t that beat all?
But now Miz Ginnia has started her lady times and Mistress think it ain’t proper for her to be wanderin about like a wild thing, so we don’t play together no more. And truth before God I misses her like a hole is in my heart.
More tears comes down my cheeks and this time I lets them come. I don’t hear Sweet Thomas comin up behind me, so the breath jumps outta my mouth when he leans over and kisses real soft like on my wet cheek.
“Don’t be sad my Buttah bean. Don’t be sad” he whispers in my ear, then walks away toward the fields.
Jes then a little bit a that hole in my heart is filled up.
Time passes and I become accustomed to the new rules bout Miz Ginnia. I ax respectful and curtsy and such, and it make Miz Ginnia sometimes laugh and sometimes get angry with me. See, she don’t want to be a growed up lady with rules neither. But Mistress ain’t changin her mind on this, so we follow the rules, though sometimes we still whisper secrets to each other when nobody else is around to hear us.
I am combin out her fine, silk hair. Long to her waist and straight as a stalk o wheat, Miz, Ginnia’s hair is bout the prettiest thing I ever seen or touched. Softer than a new chicken. She prefer I brush it for her mornin and nighttime and she close her eyes as I do it. Seems to relax her some.
“Daddy says he won’t allow Sweet Thomas to marry you. He says that you are too young to start having babies.” I make a hmm sound in my throat, but don’t say nothin. See, Sweet Thomas and me has already gone and jumped the broom and I already has a babe taken root in my belly. Sweet Thomas and me, we are lots of years apart in age, but that don’t bother us no how. Other people make it seem like something sinful and wrong that a man ol enough to be my granddaddy could love me and marry me. They is wrong. Love don’t know no age.
“I tried to talk him outta his opinion. So did Mama. She says it would be good to add more strong backs to our stables, but Daddy, he won’t budge.” Mis Ginnia open her eyes now and looks at me in the mirror. Her eyes is a bright blue color, like the sky and she is a fine, delicate creature, with her light creamy skin and her tiny fingers and feet. It like she is made of porcelain, so fine she almost ready to shatter.
“Seems like your Mama will be having her way afterall.” I sez. I drop my hands to my belly and look to her in the mirror. She so light and delicate, me so round and sturdy and yellow like the Buttah bean they call me after. It takes a minute for the idea of what I is sayin to plant in her mind, but when it do she jump up and turn around fast as can be.
“Butterbean!” She whispers, all fierce like, then she do somethin that surprise me more than anything in my life ever could. She slaps me clean across my face.
I stand starin at her, shocked at what she done. I feel the stingin handprint on my face and I fights to keep the tears that want to sprout outta my eyes.
“Zat all ma’am? Can I go now?” I sez, turnin my eyes to stone.
“Butterbean, I’m so sorry”, she go to grab me, like in a hug, but I turn toward the door and walk away. Afore I leave I curtsy and there ain’t no humor about it now.
“G’nite ma’am”. I shut the door and am almost outta the house when my face finally crumple.
When word get out Master has Rumsey the caretaker whip Sweet Thomas, and I is sent to work in the cookin house, which suit me fine. I work close beside my Ma and now we both grown ladies we see eye to eye. She had me when she was 13 and that is just the age I am now, so she understand the workings of what I is experiencin. She a brave, strong lady. My daddy was sold out from the farm afore I was born so Mama had me all on her own. I lucky that I got Sweet Thomas and when I finish my days sweatin in the cookin house I get to curl up on his big lap and lay my tired head on his shoulder and listen to his breathin. That when I know I is safe.
The day I die turn out to be the happiest day o my lifetime. I is givin birth to my son, an even though I know I is not gonna make it, I am so happy cause my Miz Ginnia, she comes to me! She sets right down aside me an she wipe the sweat from my brow and she murmur nice things to me. Her cool, soft hand on my forehead feel like heaven. My body is racked with spasms as it try to rid itself o the baby that done got itself sideways and won’t turn for nothin. Hours an hours I labor with this chile but he ain’t gonna come. I knows it now. So do everyone in the room. Sweet Thomas hold my hand and big fat tears fall down his cheeks, and leave him shiny wet under his nose. My mama don’t cry, but she get fierce angry at God and start to hollerin at Him. She only stop when Miz Ginnia come to be by my side then she close up tight and don’t say nothin at all.
Miz Ginnia, she lean down real close to my ear, so close I feel her soft breath on my cheek. It feels like love. I can see right close into her blue eyes and I know it be alright if I let go now. She whisper to me jes then.
“I’m so sorry for your troubles, Butterbean. So sorry.”
I die and l leave my body down on the bed. My baby waits for me and we hover above, watching the scene below as realization and grief seize the people left behind. I feel their grief and sorrow, but am also filled with a knowing that they will be just fine. I recognize the spirit that was my baby and it is my beloved guide. He holds his loving energy out to me. We embrace and begin to spin, and like a white mist of energy, spinning faster and faster, we ascend.
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